Click here to read the introduction to my 12 Step Series and find links to all of my 12 Step posts in one place as they become available.
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol –
that our lives had become unmanageable.
At its core, Step One is about understanding and completely accepting that we cannot control other people. It might sound simple enough in theory but it can be really hard for many of us Adult Children of Alcoholics to allow this truth to settle into our minds and hearts.
Growing up in an Alcoholic environment, I felt alone and anxious a lot of the time. I tried to take charge and be the “little adult” because no one else seemed to be in charge and that realization was super scary to me. Letting myself believe that I had some kind of control over the alcoholism and addiction in my life gave me a false sense of power and security that I held onto desperately for many years. In reality, I was just a sad, scared, hyper-vigilant, overly mature, lonely little girl trying to fix problems I had no idea that I could NOT fix. I just didn’t know any better at the time. I wanted to be able to help my parents because I loved them and I thought they would eventually get better (if I helped them) and then finally be able to take care of me like I wanted them to.
It was all innocent enough when I was little: always trying to make my mom happy, holding her hair back after she drank too much and started puking – a little version of me insisting she rinse her mouth and go straight to bed afterward (in my mind I see me shaking my little finger at her when I said that).
When I got older, I started reading finance books so I could help my Dad learn how to manage his money better. I called in sick for him at his job when he was out somewhere getting high and I was afraid he was going to get fired again. I faked dentist appointments so I could leave high school classes and go sit in on my Dad’s outpatient rehab meetings to make him understand just how important his recovery was to me. What this really means is that I wanted to keep my eyes on him to make sure he did what I wanted him to do.
You get the idea. My thinking was so distorted…I truly thought that all of the energy I was expending was actually helping people and then I was irritated because they didn’t listen and they didn’t even appreciate me! Where was my pat on the back? Where was my reward for everything I was doing to fix their lives for them?!
All of my controlling behaviors just got worse as I got older – you can ask anyone I ever dated. Ha! (It’s sorta funny…in a sad, sick way.) By the time I came into Al-Anon, I was using the phrases “drowning” and “barely keeping my head above water” to routinely describe my existence. I was completely running myself into the ground trying to make other people (not just the Alcoholics and Drug Addicts at this point but everyone) into what I just knew they could be if they gave a little effort…sense the crazy there?!? Yep, I was a walking disaster.
Everything was a mess in my life and I was so terribly ashamed of it all because I felt like I was constantly failing. (Spoiler Alert: It’s impossible to “win” someone else’s battle against alcoholism and addiction for them. If you try, you’ll end up feeling like a failure all the time too). I basically thought I was holding the whole world together. I realize now that I wasn’t really holding the whole world together – I was just holding myself captive to the chaos and dysfunction and hardcore suffering of the diseases of Alcoholism and Addiction. If you want to be really honest, all of my “helping” and “saving” was actually making things way worse for everyone. My enabling behaviors kept my loved ones sick . I was like a double agent playing both sides – telling everyone that I was being helpful because I “loved” them so much – but really I was just loading the gun and handing it over to the people I said I cared about! I was aiding and abetting the enemy, Addiction. And that is the hard truth.
When I started to work Step One in my own life, I seriously wondered what I had left if I didn’t have the “control” I thought I had been wielding like a magic sword, coming to the rescue of the Alcoholics and Addicts in my life and keeping them from all of their natural consequences. Looking back, I was also keeping myself busy enough with everyone else’s shortcomings that I never had time to look at my own – see what I did there? One night, I was journaling about this idea of “What will I have left if I give up control” when I realized something…if I were to let go of my false sense of control and power and security and admit that the only person I had any control over was me, I actually would have something left – I would have choices.
Let me say that again: Hallelujah! I would have choices!
Because I had always felt like my ability to choose had been stripped away from me because of my life circumstances. I mean…I couldn’t choose to enjoy myself like the other young people – I had to worry and work and will myself to keep going when I was an emotional wreck! I couldn’t choose to go away to college – I had be close enough to still have my thumb on everyone at home and control the situation! I felt like I had no choices but really I had plenty of them – I just couldn’t see them at the time because I was so sick. I was trying to control other people instead of taking advantage of all of the control I had in my own personal life. Here are just some of the aspects of my life that I get to make choices about; just some of the things I really do have control over…
- My attitude, my behaviors, my reactions
- Whom I choose to have a relationship with
- The boundaries I create for my relationships & the behaviors I’ll accept
- The career I choose to have
- My hobbies and passions and anything I choose to put time and effort into
- How I choose to spend my money
- Where I choose to live
- The kind of parent I choose to be to my children
- How I choose to take care of my body, mind, and spirit
- The kind of person I choose to be in this world 🌍
- And the weather! Just kidding…I’m not a mutant and, besides, Storm already has that power…
We all have a lot of choices when you think about it. But so many of us toss them aside and completely neglect ourselves because we’re trying to take control of other people’s lives (which we don’t have any business doing). I ended up rewriting Step One to fit my own individual situation and to help the reality of my powerlessness sink in:
The Original Step One:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
My Revised Step One as an Adult Child of Alcoholics:
“I admit that I am, and always have been, powerless over the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction in my life – that my life has always been unmanageable. As a child in an Alcoholic and dysfunctional environment, I had absolutely no control over anything that happened to me or anyone else during that time in my life.”
This is probably a really good time to mention the three “C”s that were introduced to me in Al-Anon which really helped me put this into better perspective:
The Three “C”s
I did not cause it.
I cannot control it.
I cannot cure it.
I recently found out about three more “C”s when scrolling through my Instagram feed. I came across a picture posted by @coaisathing which included the three additional “C”s and I think they’re great!
The Additional Three “C”s
I can take care of myself.
I can communicate my feelings.
I can make healthy choices.
(YES! Doesn’t that make you feel more powerful just by reading it?)
The addition of these three “C”s really move the perspective past the initial realization that you cannot change other people or control alcoholism and get you right into your own real power: the choices you have. If you want to find even more great information about being the child of an alcoholic, you can check out the “Being a COA (Child of an Alcoholic) is a Thing” website.
Really “getting” Step One can sometimes feel like you’ve just realized that you’re living in the Matrix and nothing is what you thought. It’s hard to change your programming – I get it. But no one gets healthy without being brave enough to do the work that needs to be done. When I was making my way through this step, I felt like my reality was cracked open and I ended up with an entirely different way of seeing the world and the people in it. Because of the work that I started with Step One, I no longer view anyone in my life as broken “things” to be micromanaged and fixed; I see them as real and flawed individuals who deserve the dignity to make their own choices – in sickness and recovery. Even better, I no longer see myself as an underappreciated hero or a helpless victim on a rollercoaster ride from hell – but as an individual with power to change my own life and power to influence the lives of others just by being me and applying Al-Anon principles to my life.
So what about you? Have you worked Step One? Do you accept that you cannot control other people? And are you able to see the choices and power that you have in your own life? Let me know in the comments below! And thanks for being here. ❤️️